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Deck Painting Vs Deck Staining

Deck Painting vs Deck Staining

Is it best to paint or stain your deck?

As Americans, we love our decks. A deck can add personality, comfort, living space, entertainment space, and add resale appeal. Your deck is an extension of the home and a great compliment to any property. While many homeowners have questions about their decks, we’re going to focus on deck painting vs deck staining.

It’s no surprise that with every deck comes required maintenance. Unprotected wood can quickly become unappealing as weather and moisture begin to take its toll. Wood will crack, warp, twist and rot without proper protection. The sun and its ultraviolet light will discolor a deck and begin to affect its fibers whether it is painted or stained.

So whether you have an older painted deck or an older stained deck, you will need to consider stripping the old coating off; it’s not if, but when. As the homeowner, once you decide which is the best look you’re looking to achieve with your deck keep in mind that maintenance costs are unavoidable.

So, is deck painting or staining better?

It is not uncommon for homeowners to ask if they should paint their deck or stain the deck. We will break down the pros and cons of all the above and share our opinion on what’s best at the end. However, whichever option you choose, how the wood decking is prepped and the paint or stain is applied can help it last a little longer. Hiring a professional painting company or deck staining contractor that knows what they’re doing can make a difference.

From this point, we will examine some of the benefits and downfalls of choosing paint or stain, so you can make the best decision for your situation and budget.

deck painting pros cons

Deck Painting

There are many reasons homeowners choose to paint their decks vs staining them. Many are under the impression that paint can last longer. This is not true. However, paint does come in many more colors and sheens than deck stain allowing for even more customization to match the color scheme of the home.

A painted deck can provide a smooth uniform look that many homeowners desire. However, with time the paint will begin to peel (usually within 12-24 months – even with a high-quality paint), crack and look weathered.

Let’s go into the pros and cons in a little more detail:

Deck Painting Pros
  • More Color Options. Deciding to paint your deck will open up more color options to allow you to mix, match and create your desired color scheme.
  • Easily Hid Flaws. Decks that are old and weathered may have imperfections that a transparent stain cannot hide – but paint can. Painting a deck can restore an old deck to look like new again.
  • Masks Old Wood and New Wood. When it’s time to replace some wood on the deck due to rotting or other reason, applying a transparent stain to new wood will look completely different than when applied to old wood. When you choose to paint the deck, you’ll never notice there’s a mix of old wood and new wood – it looks seamless.
Deck Painting Cons
  • Moisture Trap. Because the deck is a horizontal surface, water pooling is common in certain areas and moisture will eventually trap in the wood. Also, as the deck naturally expands and contracts with the season, the paint will peel and chip over time.
  • No More Beautiful Wood To Look At. Wood is naturally beautiful and if you decide to paint the deck you will not see the beauty of the wood again. Some homeowners become disappointed after learning that when a deck is painted, switching to a transparent stain is more difficult and expensive than imagined.
  • Once Painted, Always Painted. When a homeowner decides to paint their deck, they often do not realize that once the deck is painted, it’s generally permanent. Once a deck is painted, it is extremely difficult to go back to a transparent wood stain and very expensive. Keep in mind that once a deck is painted, it will always be painted unless you replace the entire deck – which actually may be cheaper than trying to strip the whole thing and go with a transparent stain.
  • Slippery When Wet. Since paint remains on the surface of the wood and does not absorb into the wood like a transparent stain, the grip on the surface is decreased. So when it’s a rainy day, keep in mind the surface can be is a little slicker when wet.
  • Way More Maintenance. Although applying a fresh coat of paint is quicker than staining, you will have to do it more often – about every 12-24 months.
  • Not Designed For Horizontal Surface. House paint is not designed for a horizontal surface or any surface where there is standing water. Paint on a house is perfect because it’s vertical and water runs off, but when applying paint to a horizontal surface, like a deck, it will not hold up to the elements like a stain will; even if you use an oil-based primer.

deck staining pros cons

Deck Staining

Just like painting the deck, the idea of staining is to provide a specific look and feel to the deck as well as protecting the wood from the weather elements.

Before we go deeper into the pros and cons of deck staining, let’s point out there are a few types of stains to consider: transparent stain, semi-transparent stain, and solid color stain. Each type has their own pros and cons, but for this post, we will discuss transparent stains and solid color stains.

Transparent Deck Stain Pros
  • Preserve Wood Beauty. Using a transparent wood stain can preserve that natural wood look while offering some protection of the wood from the weather elements.
  • 1 Coat System. One of the benefits using a transparent stain is it only takes one coat. If you are working on a smaller budget, applying a transparent stain can help keep the cost down vs painting or even solid color stain (2 coat system).
  • Various Wood Color Choices. While pine is the most common wood used for decks, if the homeowner wants their deck to have an Oak, Mahogany, Cedar, Cherry, or Teak look there are wood stain colors that can accomplish that goal.
  • Less Slippery When Wet. On those rainy days, paint is a little slicker when walking on it than a transparent stain. Since a stain absorbs into the wood, you still have the traction of the wood. When you paint the wood, you lose the grip that a wood surface can provide.
Transparent Deck Stain Cons
  • Maintenance. While transparent stains retain the beauty of the wood, they do come at a higher maintenance cost. Most oil-based transparent stains should last 3-5 years before needing to be redone. Solid color stains should last twice as long. A water-based stain will break down sooner than oil-based.
  • Restaining Requires Stripping. There is and will always be a debate on multiple layers of stain. When staining a wood, any layer/coat above the first does not soak into the wood as much as the first. The best way to restain a deck is to strip the old stain off and apply the new stain – 1 coat. Prior to any restaining of the deck, always clean the surface to remove any mold, mildew, dirt, or chips to make sure it has a clean surface to bond.
  • Transparent Stain Does No Hide Flaws. A transparent wood stain is, well, transparent – any imperfections in the wood such as cracking, splintering, holes, or chipping in the wood will still show.
  • Fewer Color Options. Transparent stains do not have nearly the number of color options as paint. However, a solid color stain can have dozens and dozens of options depending on the manufacturer.
Solid Color Deck Stain Pros
  • More Color Options. A solid color stain can be tinted similar to a paint allowing for numerous color options and customizing available for a solid color stain. This can allow the homeowner to choose different colors like a paint.
  • 2 Coat System. One of the benefits using a solid color stain is it 2 coats for better protection and coverage.
  • No Priming. Unlike a paint, where at minimum an oil-based primer is required, with a solid color stain, there is no priming.
  • Holds Up to the Weather Best. Solid color stains are designed to withstand water and other weather elements better than paint or transparent stain, especially on horizontal surfaces. Out of any paint or transparent stain, you will get a longer life out of a solid color stain.
  • Hides Flaws. Similar to paint, a solid color stain can hide the flaws and imperfections. It can fill in cracks and small holes well.
  • Easy Maintenance. Like any paint or stain, a solid color stain will break down over time and will need touching up. The easy part of a solid color stain is that once you have cleaned the deck to remove any mold, mildew, dirt or pollen applying another coat to bring back the color and protection is simple.
Solid Color Deck Stain Cons
  • Color Fades Sooner Than Paint. Although solid color stain lasts much longer than paint on a deck or other horizontal surfaces, you will see if fade a little sooner than the paint on your home. But since it’s easier to maintain, giving your deck a fresh coat should be fairly easy to accomplish.
  • Only 1 Sheen. Unlike paint, even though it has many color options, there is only1 sheen. But sometimes different colors will have different levels of glossiness or look more flat depending on the manufacturer or color choice.
  • Once You Use Solid Color – Always Use Solid Color. When a homeowner decides to use a solid color stain on their deck, keep in mind that it’s generally permanent. When a deck is stained with a solid color, it is difficult to change to a transparent stain and expensive. However, changing the color is simple since it covers any previous stains fairly well.

deck prepping power wash

Before Painting or Staining a Deck

No matter if you decide to paint or stain a deck it’s wise to consult with a professional whether you are a DIY’er or intend to hire a professional. But before you apply any paint or stain there is one important thing to remember:

  • Prep, Prep, Prep. The key to a long-lasting anything is the prep work. Prepping the wood surface with any pressure washing, stripping or sanding can remove any mold, mildew, dirt, pollen or mill glaze that could prevent any stain or paint from bonding. Failure to prep the wood deck prior will result in premature peeling and drive your maintenance cost higher than anticipated.

In conclusion, as a professional we do not recommend using paint on a horizontal wood surface such as a deck that will be exposed to the weather elements – we always will recommend using a stain in those circumstances. A stain will just last you much longer and hold up to the weather and foot traffic better than paint.

If you’re looking for a deck staining company in Indianapolis that can help you with your next staining project, Legacy Painting can help!

Call at (317) 560-7428


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This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. […] As Indianapolis Painters, we will paint what you want us to paint, but when it comes to painting certain trim areas, decks, fences, or areas with bare wood – we always recommend going with an Oil-Based Solid Color Stain instead of any paint. If your home has cedar siding or you live in a log home, using an oil-based stain may serve you better than applying paint. It will last longer, it’s more durable and you will be more satisfied with the long-term results using a stain rather than a paint. […]

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